Announcing Beta Phase 21 (part 2 of 2)

This post continues revealing new features in Phase 21. Read Part 1 if you haven’t.

Real-time games get a clock!

Another addition in Phase 21 is a timer that counts down in the top-right corner of the screen:

The timer counts down to the boot time configured for the game, so it’s always clear how much time you have before you risk being booted. The timer will continue to run even after submitting your orders, that way you know if you have enough time to re-do them if you notice a mistake.

While the clock is a small addition, just increasing awareness of the boot timer should go a long ways towards reducing the number of times players are booted unexpectedly.

Blockade Card

Phase 21 will bring the addition of the blockade card, which you can think of as a less effective abandon card. The blockade card works much like the abandon card, except the blockade card happens at the end of your turn instead of the beginning. This means any attacks, airlifts, or other actions happen before the territory changes into a neutral and increases its armies.

The advantage of using the blockade card in lieu of the abandon card in your games means that, on offense, you won’t have to worry about your large stacks getting devastated. Since the blockades happen after attacks, your offensive stacks can freely move around without hitting any unexpected neutrals.

The blockade card is great for people who like the abandon card’s ability to block off pathways around the map, but don’t like the abandon card’s ability to decimate opposing armies. Since the latter strategy is so powerful, it means that in some cases, abandon cards would mostly be used as a way to take armies away from your opponent by abandoning the spot they were about to attack. This meant that there were few abandon cards left over to create blockades.

The blockade card is a little more difficult to use than the abandon card. When playing a blockade card, it’s very important to ensure you still own the territory you’re blockading at the end of your turn. If you lose the territory you played the card on, the card will have no effect and you don’t get the card back. Therefore, it’s recommended that you play this on territories that you know you won’t lose, such as those that don’t touch an opponent or that are sufficiently defended.

Even though Phase 21 is mostly about open games, the blockade card was thrown in since it was fairly easy to add. It should be a great addition, and I think it’s far better suited for 1 v 1 matches than the abandon card is. In a 1 v 1 match, the ability to take your opponents armies away with a well-predicted abandon is extremely powerful. This puts a lot of emphasis on predicting where your opponent will attack, which I don’t like. I’m going to make a big 1 v 1 tournament using the blockade card to test this out – post a reply if you’d like to be invited.

Automatic Games

Wrapping up the last big feature of Phase 21 is automatic games. This is an experimental feature designed to help new players have fun with multi-player right off the bat. WarLight will automatically create games made up of open seats, and ensure new ones are created whenever the existing ones fill up. This means there will always be a game available for new players to join.

This also demonstrates part of the reason why the Open Games tab was created (covered in part 1). Since there will always be at least one open game, it doesn’t make sense to advertise them on the top of the My Games tab like they were before.

For the initial release, there will only be three automatic games. These were picked to give the feature the best chance of success – if these work out well, more may be created in future releases. If they don’t work out well, they may be removed.

Two of them are Strategic 1 v 1 games – one real-time, and one multi-day. 1 v 1 games should work well for automatic games since they’ll fill up and start fast and collusion isn’t possible. The third is a multi-day newbie game, which uses open seat prerequisites to ensure that only new players can join. Since veterans are kept out, the skill level should be more appropriate, helping new players to ween themselves onto multi-player.

Announcing Beta Phase 21 (part 1 of 2)

It’s an open game extravaganza! First, business:

WarLight will be going down on Wednesday, December 15th at 1am PST (9am GMT) for up to an hour. Please plan accordingly for any fast games that may get interrupted during this 1-hour window.

During this time, WarLight will be upgraded to Beta Phase 21. Once the deployment is complete, you can view all of the changes on the Change History page.

Open Seat Prerequisites

Once Phase 21 is live, WarLight will allow game creators to specify prerequisites that players must meet in order to join open seats in their games.

Here are some examples of prerequisites game creators could specify:

– Players must get booted in fewer than 10% of their games.
– Players must have completed at least 10 games.
– Players must have an average move speed of less than 1 hour.
– Players must have been a WarLight member for at least 30 days. (no newbies)
– Players must have been a WarLight member for fewer than 30 days. (newbies only)

Players that don’t meet the requirements you set won’t even see your game, and therefore won’t be allowed to join it. This will help players get matched up with the kind of players they’re looking for.

Separation of real-time games and multi-day games

Until now, WarLight multi-player games have been mostly geared towards play-by-email speed of play. These kind of games usually play one or two turns per day and play out over the course of a few weeks. However, some people prefer a more rapid style of play, where games are played in real-time.

Both styles of play are supported by WarLight, but there is room for improvement in the current model. For example, new WarLight players often have a hard time distinguishing between these two types of games. Veterans know to check the boot time when evaluating whether or not to join a game, and the low-boot-time warning certainly helps, but these are cumbersome to discover as a new player.

Most players have an expectation for how fast multi-player games will move before they enter. Either they are used to single-player games which play out quickly and therefore expect real-time multi-player games, or they see the e-mail notification feature and expect a multi-day game. Sometimes, new players get into a game that isn’t the speed they expect. This causes a bad experience for everyone involved – either they get booted if they’re waiting on an e-mail of a real-time game, or they whine about the turn not advancing when people don’t play immediately in a multi-day game.

After Phase 21, WarLight will categorize games into one of these two categories. This will help set expectations for new players. When players create a new game, they will actually be asked whether it is real-time or multi-day:

This will constrain the boot times that can be used, and also help players pick the correct type on the new open games tab.

Open Games Tab

The little advertisement on top of the My Games tab will be replaced with a dedicated tab to open games:

The first time a player navigates to this tab, WarLight will give a short explanation of what real-time and multi-day games are and ask them which they seek. This will ensure that players always get the speed of game they’re expecting, and should cut down on some of the boot issues players run into in open games.

The My Games advertisement worked well for drawing players attention to an open game, but it wasn’t very usable since it didn’t show any settings about that game and wasn’t practical when there were lots of open games. Further, the whole idea of not appearing when there were no open games created a lot of confusion. When there were no open games, it was impossible for new players to understand how to go about joining open games – this was a very frequent pain point. Further yet, open seat prerequisites make calculating your open games a more time-consuming operation, and it doesn’t make sense to do this on every refresh of the My Games tab.

More features in part 2 of this blog post!